In 1983, Edward Lazear launched the Journal of Labor Economics with the support of NORC at the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Press. During the next decade, the journal became the top academic publication in its field. In 1996 Lazear conceived the idea of a Society of Labor Economists to promote the study of labor economics and enhance the contribution of labor economics and labor economists to the field. Lazear drafted the Bylaws and submitted them to the readership of the JOLE. The announcement of the formation of the Society, an invitation to join, and the first draft of the Bylaws were published in the April 1995 issue of the Journal. A ballot followed, and the Bylaws were ratified by a vote of 367-3 in October 1995.

Lazear immediately enlisted the cooperation of some of the top names in the field to join him on the Executive Board of the Society and stand for election as officers. The list of SOLE past presidents below is a Who’s Who of the labor economics profession.

Membership in the Society is open to all subscribers to the Journal. The main function of the Society is to hold an annual meeting to promote and disseminate research. Submission of presentations at this meeting is open to all labor economists anywhere in the world, with the goal of attracting the broadest possible participation regardless of institutional affiliation or seniority.

Lazear also invited the Managing Editor of the Journal, Maggie Newman, to serve as the administrator of the Society and run its annual meetings, which she has done since the first meeting, held May 3-4 1996 in Chicago, which was attended by 150 distinguished labor economists. During the next 20 years, that number has grown significantly and the meetings now average more than 300 participants annually. Beginning in July 2020, management services are provided by the Population Association of America.

Beginning in 2000, SOLE affiliated with the European Association of Labor Economics (EALE) and every five years the two hold a joint meeting, alternating the hosting responsibilities. These joint meetings attract over 500 participants and feature 400 academic presentations.

In 2004, the Society expanded its role to include the establishment of Fellows and the presentation of annual awards to distinguished researchers in labor economics.

SOLE Presidents:

1997 Gary S. Becker
1998 Edward P. Lazear
1999 Richard B. Freeman
2000 Sherwin Rosen
2001 Dan Hamermesh
2002 Ron Ehrenberg
2003 Orley Ashenfelter
2004 Finis Welch
2005 John Pencavel
2006 Francine D. Blau
2007 Robert Willis
2008 Yoram Weiss
2009 Robert Pollak
2010 Richard Blundell
2011 David Card
2012 Shelly Lundberg
2013 Lawrence Katz
2014 John Abowd
2015 Janet Currie
2016 Henry Farber
2017 Marjorie McElroy
2018 Joseph Altonji
2019 Katharine Abraham
2020 Robert Moffitt